By David Ball
The world premiere of Neil Young’s concert film Rust Never Sleeps took place at the Bruin Theatre in Westwood, California, on July 11, 1979; the album of the same name was released earlier that day.
The nearly two-hour-long flick offers both a thrilling and interesting (more on that later) look at the multi-JUNO Award winner and 1982 inductee of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in prime live form, both unaccompanied and with legendary backing band Crazy Horse, at their October 22, 1978 gig at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. The solid 17-song set features some of Young’s best songs, including “Cortez the Killer,” “The Needle and the Damage Done” and “Cinnamon Girl,” plus showcases excellent new material from his 1978 Rust Never Sleeps tour, including “Powderfinger” and the hard-rock arena-rocker of arena-rockers, “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”
But be forewarned: If you plan on watching the film for the first time, get ready to be weirded out by frequent on-stage appearances by disturbing Jawa-like Star Wars creatures with glowing eyes – Young refers to them as “road-eyes” – setting up gigantic prop and often accompanied by equally disturbing dancers and white-coated men. But if you can endure these – and a few other – unsettling production flourishes, Young will rock your socks off.
And then there is that little Rust Never Sleeps album…
Upon its July 11, 1979, release, Rust Never Sleeps was hailed as one of Young’s finest efforts from his most important decade of music. It peaked at No. 8 on Billboard and impressively won Rolling Stone’s Critics Poll for Album of the Year for 1979.
The majority of the half-acoustic, half-electric recording was culled from the aforementioned Cow Palace gig, with audience noise mostly edited out. Only two of the LP’s nine tracks were produced in the studio: “Sail Away” from the Comes a Time sessions and a haunting 1975 solo performance of “Pocahontas.”
The album title is an aphorism as Young tries to overcome irrelevance through rebirth, summarized in the prophetic lines: “Rock and roll is here to stay/It’s better to burn out/Than to fade away” from the brilliant acoustic opening track “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue).” The sludgy anthemic closer, “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” is one of the most potent rock statements of the 1970s. For all of its 5:18 runtime, Neil Young and Crazy Horse manage to acknowledge the ongoing legacy of Elvis, the past and the influence of punk while pushing the sonic boundaries of garage rock to near metal heights. Alas, Rust Never Sleeps signifies Young’s last serious commercial blast before his career went into a state of flux through most of the 1980s, caused in part by his highly publicized creative and legal battles with Geffen. However, the “Godfather of Grunge” returned with a vengeance in 1989 with Freedom and hasn’t missed a beat since.
I can think of no other Canadian musician more deserving of this honour:
On July 13, 1993, Geddy Lee, lead singer and bassist for multi-JUNO Award–winning band and 1994 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Rush, sang “O Canada” a cappella at Major League Baseball’s 64th All-Star Game at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland.
Lee was the perfect choice to sing our anthem. Canada’s baseball profile was at an all-time high at the 64th edition of the midsummer classic, with an unprecedented eight Toronto Blue Jays players representing Toronto and four in the American League (AL) starting lineup (on the National League side, Marquis Grissom was the only selection from the Montreal Expos). The Jays were also the reigning World Series champs and would go on to win their second World Series in a row just three months later. Under the managerial guidance of Blue Jays skipper Cito Gaston, the AL whipped its Senior Circuit rivals 9–3. (For all you baseball fans, this was the infamous All-Star Game where Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina caused a ruckus by trying to show up Gaston by warming up late in the game without getting the manager’s official go-ahead.)
As I was saying, Geddy Lee was the most deserving to sing our anthem because…
There’s no bigger baseball fan in all of Canadian music than the respected Toronto musician, at least on my unscientific but 100 per cent accurate list. For example, Lee is a lifelong fan and noted amateur baseball historian, who in 2008 donated his entire collection of signed Negro League baseballs, totalling nearly 200, to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. And anyone who has watched Toronto Blue Jays home games on television over the past number of years has undoubtedly spied the unmistakable Mr. Lee sitting in the second row behind home plate often wearing a Blue Jays hat as he cheers on his favourite team. I’ve dubbed where he sits the “Geddy Lee seats” due to how damn good they are.
Hey Geddy, next time you sing our anthem, how about finishing it off by breaking into a bass solo or singing something from “The Fountain of Lamneth” or a verse from “By-Tor and the Snow Dog”?
Sloan’s 1992 full-length debut, Smeared, was certified gold in Canada on July 12, 1995. The Halifax power-pop quartet has produced many domestic hit songs over their 21-year career, but the album’s lead single, “Underwhelmed,” remains their highest charting track outside of Canada, reaching No. 25 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks.
Smeared’s other four singles failed to chart in Canada, but the LP remains a favourite among critics and the band’s large fan base, and placed a solid No. 86 on Bob Mersereau’s respected book, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (Goose Lane Editions, 2007). Incidentally, two other Sloan albums made it on Mesereau’s list, the highest ranked is 1994’s Twice Removed at No. 14.
Canadian celebrity rock brats tie the knot…
On July 15, 2006, Napanee, Ontario’s Avril Lavigne married Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley in Montecito, California; the pair got engaged a year earlier. Lavigne originally wanted a rock ’n’ roll goth wedding, but thought better of it when imagining what the photos would look like 20 years down the road. (I’m thinking those folks currently sporting wraparound barbwire arm tattoos back in the 1990s should have used the same philosophy.) Lavigne chose to go the traditional route and wore a white dress, designed by Vera Wang. About 110 people attended the ceremony at a private estate.
The couple’s first dance was the decidedly unpunk “Iris” by adult contemporary stalwarts, Goo Goo Dolls. For Whibley, I’m pretty sure the song choice was either a compromise or a guilty pleasure (but for me it would be grounds for divorce). Seven months into their marriage, Lavigne stated that she was “the best thing that ever happened to him” because the Belleville, Ont.–born popster was instrumental in helping him keep off drugs. Tragically, their marriage was short-lived. The couple announced on September 17, 2009, that they had split up and that divorce proceedings would soon follow (there was no truth to the rumour that part of the reason for the split was having to dance to that cursed Goo Goo Dolls song). Their divorce was finalized on November 16, 2010, but they remain friends to this day.
Next week: Rick James and Rich Little
“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” by Neil Young and Crazy Horse from Rust Never Sleeps